The U.S. government doesn’t confirm visa revocations, but the music scene here has been abuzz with rumors of Jamaican artists forced to cancel U.S. shows because they can’t travel. In 2010, one Jamaican music online site even printed what it says was a U.S. Embassy document informing airlines to prevent four top artists from boarding U.S.-bound flights.
The fallout couldn’t be clearer than during the recent Jamaica Golden Jubilee celebrations. The most talked about positive music story in the international media involved American rapper Snoop Dog preparing to release his first reggae album and changing his name to Snoop Lion in honor of reggae icon Bob Marley, whose music dealt with peace and love.
Earlier this year when reggae and hip hop fans gathered in Miami for an annual Memorial Day weekend concert, the event turned into a tribute to Banton, born Mark Anthony Myrie. Last year, a Florida jury sentenced the Grammy winner to 10 years on drug-related charges after a December 2009 cocaine sting. When details of the operations first surfaced, fans remarked how eerily similar they were to one of his music videos, Driver.
“The business of life imitating art, instead of art imitating life, goes back to that age-old debate about socialization,” said Sonjah Stanley Niaah, who teaches cultural studies at the University of the West Indies in Kingston. “There is a deeper problem in terms of how these artists see themselves.”
If Banton’s arrest stunned dancehall fans, that of Kartel — born Adijah Palmer — still has many in a daze. Currently the genre’s most celebrated artist, the jailed dancehall star is facing charges of obstruction-of-justice and murder.
Practices within the island’s music industry are contributing to concern about the genre’s future.
Radio deejays are “skewing their playlists” to only promote certain songs, says Stanley Niaah — a point the publicist of Kartel’s recently published book, The Voice of the Jamaican Ghetto, also raised as she sought to clarify that not all of his songs are laced with violence and sexual innuendo.
The situation is so dire that Stanley Niaah calls it “an implosion.” The way to salvation, she suggests, is for the government to regulate the music industry and for respected figures to mentor artists.
But where some see crisis, others see opportunity.
“Sometimes when you have to plant the seed, you have to first burn what’s there,” said Powe, who doesn’t believe Jamaica is making great music anymore. “Whether by being visa-less, by being locked up, whether just by being unsuccessful, a whole new paradigm of how you do business is going to have to be shaped.”
Bogdanovich, the promoter who moved to Kingston from Los Angeles to produce dancehall music and concerts, says it’s already happening.
But even as Bogdanovich talks about a rebirth, it’s clear some things may never change. Security at the studio has gotten even tighter in recent days after one of Bogdanovich’s up-and-coming artists got into a lyrical war of words with a veteran, Sizzla.
Bogdanovich’s office wall is decorated with life-size posters of once promising artists who couldn’t cut it.
“We leave these people on the walls so that we remember not to make the same mistakes,” he said. “When you see signs of an artist losing his focus and that he’s bigger than the incredible hype around him, you have to deal with it immediately.”
And while some are quick to sound the alarm on dancehall’s death, Bogdanovich isn’t ready quite yet to stage a send-off.
“A new generation of artists is starting to get the confidence and desire and strength to do their thing. That’s a different kind of generation. The words are shorter, not as long, get to the point quickly. You might call it Attention Deficit Disorder.”